Sad, happy, scared, angry. You know them, but you may not always love them. You may think you know a thing or two about emotions, but I bet that you’ve only scratched the surface.
We often shame feelings, whether our own or others’.
We learn early in life to “cheer up!” when sad.
“You’re fake” when you’re happy.
“Don’t be a scaredy cat!” when scared.
And whatever you do, under any circumstances, “control your anger!”
All these emotions (and more) are a healthy, normal part of the human experience. In fact, not expressing these emotions can lead to more damage than good. When we fight these emotions for years and years, they become repressed. Repressed emotions don’t disappear- they come back ten-fold. As an adult, you may experience panic attacks, uncontrollable anxiety, nausea and digestive issues, fatigue, consistent irritability, or muscle pain and tension. It may have never crossed your mind that repressed emotions may be the culprit.
Possible reasons why your emotions could be repressed:
1. You grew up in a home where emotions were not accepted or tolerated well. You had to “stop that crying” or “dry up those tears”. God, forbid you become angry and raise your voice. This teaches us early on that these emotions are unacceptable, so swallow that lump in your throat and move on with your day. Then we are told to move on and forget about it, never to be addressed again.
2. We really haven’t been given a lot of language around emotions. We know the basics- happy, sad, mad, scared. But there is always something deeper underneath. Anger tends to be the most misunderstood. Anger is obvious. It’s loud, powerful, and it make you feel in control. However, anger is always a secondary emotion. Often, when we are feeling angry, we are actually: annoyed, hurt, jealous, betrayed, embarrassed, or bitter- the list goes on. When we aren’t given the language to accurately name the feeling, it becomes a generalization. Your temperamental coworker or friend may be dealing with some deep-seated hurt or feelings of abandonment. That’s not to justify anyone taking out anger on others- that’s on them to heal. But it may help you tap into your compassionate self a little bit more.
3. Feelings often are followed by the phrase, “I am”. “I am sad, mad, scared, etc.” The reason why this is important is because we are not our feelings. When feelings are attributed as a state of permanent being, rather than a passing emotion, we put labels on ourselves and others. “She is depressed woman”, “He is an angry man”. This language breeds shame. Who wants to be labeled like that? I doubt you do, so you push them down.
4. IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE. Being sad is not fun, y’all. You may worry you might take your anger out on a loved one. So again, we put it on the back burner only to realize years later, the kitchen is on fire.
Okay fine, I have repressed emotions. Now what?
Great news! You can heal this crap and prevent it from happening in the future, as well as preventing your kids from going through it.
1. Please don’t dismiss your child’s feelings. This teaches them early on that they are not okay. Emotions are healthy and genuinely uncontrollable. However, you can teach your children how to appropriately manage those emotions and communicate their feelings. If you, yourself grew up in a home where emotions were not validated, find a local therapist to work with so you can work to heal. I highly recommend the movie, Inside Out for adults and children.
2. Use the feelings wheel. I will link this below. This wheel shows all of the core emotions but branches out into the potential underlying ones. I use this tool with almost all. Of my clients. Journaling can be helpful in this case. Challenge yourself to choose 5-10 emotions from the wheel and write them all out. Under each emotion, write. 1-3 sentences about why you felt that way.
Core emotion: Anger
One underlying emotion: betrayal
Sentence: “I felt betrayed when _____ made a promise to go to a birthday party with me, but ditched me for something else. It made me feel like time with me wasn’t as fun. It made me feel as though they didn’t take their commitment seriously.
Brene Brown also has a great series on HBO called Atlas of the Heart. She goes into detail about different emotions and uses popular movie and tv clips to help identify them. This is an incredible resource.
3. Stop saying, “I am ____”. Start saying, I FEEL ______”. Feelings are not our state of being. They are not who we are. On average, intense waves of emotion lasts for 90 seconds.
4. You’re going to hate this one. But sometimes you just gotta sit in it. Yep, sit in the crap. Allow it to flow through you. You can meditate on it or turn that energy into physical energy by doing jumping jacks, going for a walk, run, or shaking your hands or body. There is also trauma-informed yoga.